As a hobbyist farmer, it seems that there is always a struggle between work and play, especially when your playtime is in fact a whole lot of work. As a teacher, the busiest times of the school year are also the busiest times on the gardening calendar. Here in the northeast, harvest time happens concurrently with the beginning of the school year; and, seed starting and transplanting season coincides with the end of the school year. It’s good to have that consistent rejuvenation, as teaching (8th graders) is beyond mentally exhausting and farming is beyond physically exhausting. The yin and yang of these two worlds provides great balance; but for me, it’s all about the timing.
Over the years I have been trying to ﬁne-tune my timing to improve my workload balance. That’s why January and February is my time to slowly start my seed germination. These winter months might as well be called Rosemary and Lavender. Providing the right conditions (including bright T5 ﬂuorescent lights and a heated germination mat) for these herbs will have you sprouting seeds in no time and transplanting outside on your target date.
Because the seeds for rosemary and lavender are fairly small, I simply spread the seeds over my damp potting soil and follow up with a ﬁne mist after pressing the seeds into the soil. I try to be careful not to mist too forcefully so that the seeds will stay put. No matter what kind of tray or container you are using, it is important to gently lift the container every day to feel how heavy it is. The key here is consistency.
Rosemary and lavender need to have a dome or plastic wrap over the container to help keep a consistent environment. Each day, the soil can be misted based on your observations. Maybe once a day is all that is needed; maybe two or three times. Maybe not even once a day because the environment is so moist. (I want to be careful not to invite in any pathogens.) Spend the time to observe the soil: what it looks like, smells like, its weight as you lift the container. The more time you can take to observe, and perhaps take notes, the more connected you will be to your plants.
The key to germination with most plants is knowing when to allow them to start struggling on their own. You won’t stop misting your plants when they start to germinate, but you will need to remove that plastic dome soon. Ideally, when each plant showed it’s ﬁrst set of true leaves, you would remove the plastic above, forcing the plant to rely on root growth for water uptake, rather than through the leaves. (If you are using plastic wrap, carefully cut or tear holes above your baby plants, leaving a more moist microclimate around the unsprouted seeds.)
But if you are like me, you have ﬁlled a tray with seeds and have a dome overhead and it will come down to judgment. If I have 10 seeds in the soil and 3 or 4 have already sprouted, I’m taking that dome off and keeping in mind that the soil is now going to dry faster each day. I know that I can baby these sprouts until I see their ﬁrst true set of leaves. From that point, I will carefully remove a seedling with a spoon or butter knife and transplant it into a small container. Plastic beer cups or a 4x4x6 pot works great as rosemary in particular likes to dig deep with its roots. Just make sure the seedling’s
soil is allowed to dry out a bit. This will force the plant to shoot roots further in search of water.
Best of luck with your rosemary and lavender germination! And remember, it has more to do with consistency than it does with luck.
By Benjamin Schur
Randy V. Augustitus -Founding Curator Our Farm Our Food®